Going camping for an extended weekend can be exciting and fearful for individuals with back pain. Being in nature is exhilarating, setting up tents with the family, fishing, and hitting the backpacking trails. For those that struggle with back and/or neck pain or conditions that cause pain, the objective is to be prepared for the worst. The weather, steep hills, physical activities, sitting in chairs that are not spine supportive, and sleeping on hard ground can contribute to all kinds of back issues. There are adjustments and modifications, as well as, tools to help the experience remain pain-free and be highly enjoyable.
Camping Back Pain
Not everyone with back pain or conditions that cause pain will struggle with camping out. There are individuals that prefer an ultra-firm sleeping surface like the ground as it provides their spine with the necessary support. Research has found that medium to fully firm mattresses and surfaces are the least to cause back pain. Many individuals go mattress-free a few nights a week and report that it helps reduce their pain.
- Mattresses that are too soft sink in too much, provide no support to the spine that leads to spinal problems and more aches, and pains.
- Sciatica from pinched nerves can become irritated or flare up when sleeping on the ground.
- Individuals with arthritis in the spinal joints can present with stiffness and more pain.
- Carrying and moving heavy equipment
- Backpacking with heavy bags
- Setting up tents
- Repeatedly bending over
- Using traditional camping chairs can position the spine at unnatural angles and can aggravate certain spinal conditions.
Modifications and Adjustments
As with most physical activities for individuals with back pain, it’s all about preparation and modification. Here are a few ways to adjust the camping trip to prevent and avoid back pain:
- Don’t sit for too long.
- Move around throughout the day.
- Stretch out
- Don’t take long hiking or biking trips.
- Use the pockets in cargo pants/shorts or a jacket for essential items.
- Rent a camper with a bed.
- Get a cabin if necessary.
Individuals with spinal conditions and pain will benefit from using proper and advanced gear to provide back support.
- Use a back supportive camping chair, not the soft canvas type.
- Utilize as much mobile/rolling camping gear and ask for help when moving, lifting heavy equipment.
- Use hiking poles for support and avoid carrying backpacks or bags, as they add strain to the spine.
- There are quality air mattresses and sleeping pads designed for pain symptoms and conditions.
Do a little research and see what options are available. Overall, aim for equipment that is sturdy and supportive. Listen to your body, follow a doctor or chiropractor’s advice, and enjoy nature.
Individuals can keep track of their food choices by logging their food intake into a personal food journal. This is where food choices and calorie intake can be examined, analyzed, and learned from. A study showed that individuals who diligently track their food and calorie intake had a greater amount of weight loss. For those that want to lose body fat, the body needs to be in a caloric deficit. After a week of logging meals, snacks, and drinks, an individual is in a better position to correct and adjust a weight loss plan. For example, journaling helps with:
- Commitment to making smart food choices.
- Monitoring portion sizes.
- Log calories by using a phone app.
- Take a look at the MyPlate food diagram
Most comfortable sleeping: Sleep Health. (December 2015) “Effect of different mattress designs on promoting sleep quality, pain reduction, and spinal alignment in adults with or without back pain; a systematic review of controlled trials.” https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S2352721815001400
The information herein on "Camping With Back Pain, Modifications and Adjustments" is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified healthcare professional or licensed physician and is not medical advice. We encourage you to make your own health care decisions based on your research and partnership with a qualified health care professional.
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